NEW YORK — Otto Porter Jr.'s jumper wasn’t falling on Thursday afternoon, but that didn’t stop him from leaving his fingerprints all over Georgetown’s 62-43 quarterfinal win over Cincinnati.
The Big East Player of the Year was three-of-nine from the field, but still ended up with eighteen points, knocking down all eleven of his free throw attempts in addition to collecting six rebounds. He only had two assists, but they resulted in completely wide-open shots for Nate Lubick and Markel Starks. The long list of contributions Porter made that didn’t show up on the stat sheet is even more impressive.
He was on the court almost the entire game, finally exiting to an ovation with 54.9 seconds left and the Hoyas staked to an 18-point lead. He played at the top of Georgetown’s zone press, using his height and wingspan to herd Cincinnati ballhandlers all afternoon. He somehow was always leading the fast break for the Hoyas and seemingly always made the correct decision, leading to open looks or free throw opportunities for his teammates.
The focus of Cincinnati’s defense seemed to be to stick with Porter at all costs. By my count, five different players guarded the Hoya forward in the first half*, along with some zone thrown in for an additional wrinkle. The rest of the Bearcat defense was always monitoring his position as he floated around the high post or dove to the paint on a backdoor cut. Even if Porter didn’t touch the ball on a possession, his presence paid dividends.
* This is not exact, but my tally: Jaquon Parker and Shaquille Thomas were matched up seven times each, Titus Rubles five times, Cheikh Mbodj twice and Sean Kilpatrick once. That’s not factoring in switches.
One example: With five and a half minutes left in the first, Georgetown guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was out on the wing and Porter headed his direction as if he was going to set a screen. He then cut to the paint and both Cincy defenders slid with him, leaving Smith-Rivera wide open for a three. The Bearcat defenders cheating towards Porter left little creases like this for the Hoya supporting cast all game long.
"A lot of teams are starting to key in on [Porter] more," said Smith-Rivera after the game, when asked about the attention paid to his heralded teammate. "I think more of the strategy for them is to try to stop him and kind of worry less about the other guys on our team. Guys like Nate, Markel, myself, we're starting to get going."
To the Bearcats credit, they battled back after trailing by as many as fifteen in the first half. They used a flurry of threes to cut the deficit to five at the half and continued that surge into the second stanza, tying the game at 33 five minutes after the break. But they just could not find consistent offensive production, shooting only 36.8% from the field (Kilpatrick was 0-for-8 from behind the arc) and allowing their turnovers to fuel sixteen Hoya points. They also surprisingly lost the battle of the boards, getting outrebounded by Georgetown 29-26.
Porter has a rather unconvential background when compared to most college stars, something Jeff Eisenberg covered on The Dagger last month:
Because Porter grew up in rural Missouri playing pick-up games against his friends and family instead of making a name for himself on the AAU circuit, it took longer for college coaches and recruiting services to discover his talent. Georgetown landed Porter after a recruiting battle with Missouri and Kansas the spring of his senior year of high school.
This week Sports Illustrated’s Dan Greene put together a wonderful profile of the Hoya star – a likely top pick in the NBA draft should he decide to declare – full of some very entertaining details on his hardball education:
By middle school they were playing one-on-one in the backyard for hours, first-hand tutorials augmented by pickup games with his uncles and their friends in the school gym on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons. These were full-court tests against grown men as happy to holler about not boxing out or failure to execute a fast break as they were to get physical on defense. "They'd beat you up, no doubt about that," says Otto Sr. "And you weren't expected to cry about it either."
When you grow up battling for rebounds and fighting through the merciless screens of your uncles, maybe the lights of the Garden aren’t all that intimidating. The Hoyas continue their quest for the program’s eighth tournament crown tomorrow night at 7:00pm.